Stuart J Major, the Worshipful Master of Winlaton St Paul’s Lodge, utilised the change in meeting date of his lodge provided by the bank holiday for Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, to attend an altogether different anniversary. On the evening of the 31 st May, Stuart, along with several other musicians from the North East, began the long journey to Normandy, France to form part of the invitational Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial . All the invited members of this band, who are based around England, and members from Gibraltar and the Netherlands, attend at their own cost, often in their holiday time, to give their time to those who gave their lives.
Arriving on the 1 st June, several days before the commemorations began, it gave Stuart time to head to the new British Normandy Memorial, which will be familiar to many with the BBC Breakfast appearances of fellow mason Harry Billinge MBE, as well as his feature in Freemasonry Today. This memorial is situated overlooking the beaches where the men of the Allied Forces stormed ashore to begin the task of the liberation of Europe. It was at this memorial where all 22,442 individuals, serving under British command, who died in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy are commemorated, that Stuart chose to lay a token of remembrance on behalf of Winlaton St Paul’s Lodge.
On the 3 rd June, the Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial , moved into their new temporary home, consisting of camping in the Benouville Sports Hall, provided by the Madame la Mayor and people of Benouville. This accommodation was greatly received by the band and played home to their miniature Jubilee party, including bunting.
The musical portion of the trip, for the Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial , began on the afternoon of the 4 th June with a Veterans BBQ, attended this year by a low number of D-Day Veterans, due to the Platinum Jubilee, health and covid concerns. From then it was full steam ahead, with services for the Airborne Forces of the D-Day Operations, in Benouville, at Pegasus Bridge and surrounding memorials, 7 Para Memorial, and also a concert in Benouville for the local community and those who were visiting for the commemorations. In Ranville there were performances at services at the Ranville Crossroads to mark the liberation of the town and at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Cemetery at Ranville. These commemorations in Benouville and Ranville were attended by the local Mayors, Gendarmerie, and populations, as well as officers and soldiers of the Parachute Regiment; Army Air Corps and cadets from the Army Cadet Force, in addition to Chaplains from the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department and most importantly those veterans who made the journey to France 78 years ago, in altogether different conditions.
This was an experience for Stuart, as it was his first time in Normandy and performing abroad for the Massed Bands of the Pegasus Bridge . It was insightful talking to those who had survived D-Day and the Battle of Normandy and a trip full of emotion being at the heart of the services and commemorations by providing the music fitting for the remembrance of those who at such a young age gave their lives, having dropped behind the lines and endeavoured, despite the odds against them, to enable the Allied invasion to gain the vital foothold it needed. Stuart has been invited to return to Normandy next year with the Massed Bands of the Pegasus Memorial and has accepted the kind invitation.